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Court Case Highlights Children's Vulnerability to Exposures Linked to Autism

Court Case Highlights Children's Vulnerability to Exposures Linked to Autism

Monday, July 14, 2008

Federal health officials have acknowledged that childhood vaccinescontributed to a young girl developing a brain disorder "with features ofautism spectrum disorder.” An underlying metabolic disorder increased hervulnerability to neurological damage. Newly available court documents fromthe case her parents brought against the government show federal officialsconceding that the vaccines she received during the first two years of herlife played a role in the change her parents witnessed, as their daughterHannah regressed from a normal, verbal toddler to a child withdrawn from theworld and, at one point, completely unable to speak. According to CDC,autism affects as many as 1 in 150 children in some communities.

This case reinforces the fact that some children are more vulnerable thanothers to exposures that can lead to health problems like autism. Itevidence that their bodies can be overwhelmed, while another child mightsuffer no ill effects at all from the same exposures. CDC's recommendationson vaccine schedules, that space vaccines out during early childhood, are inplace to help protect children from harmful side effects and still providefor crucial protection from disease.

This case highlights the urgent need for policies that protect children fromexposures that put them at risk for autism and other neurological diseases,including exposures to any of the more than 200 industrial chemicalsidentified by researchers in a landmark 2006 Lancet publication as posingrisks to the human brain and nervous system.

These chemicals include mercury, a known human neurotoxin. Mercury wasremoved from childhood vaccines around 2001 but is still used as apreservative in the flu shot. Its potential link to autism is a matter ofconsiderable scientific and political debate, and was not supported in arecent California study. But the continuing use of mercury in flu shotsadministered to pregnant women exposes children in utero to mercury at atime of particular vulnerability. Young children are at risk as well.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducts innovative research tosupport strong, science-based policies that will protect children's health.In 2005 our biomonitoring research found 287 industrial chemicals,pollutants and pesticides in cord blood from 10 babies born in the US,including 157 chemicals toxic to the brain and nervous system. Our work also includes research on the potential role oftoxic chemicals in the development of autism and autism spectrum disorder.

Hannah's case is yet another warning that we need policies that protect allchildren from exposures that can harm their health. And we need them soon.

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